MTV Games hires to beat the 'Band'

THQ, Sony vets join to build on success of hit title

SAN DIEGO--MTV has hired industry veterans Scott Guthrie and David Cox to run its gaming division as it looks to build upon the tremendous success of its first gaming franchise, “Rock Band.”

Guthrie, who becomes executive VP/general manager, joins MTV Games from publisher THQ, where he served as executive VP of publishing. Prior to that Guthrie worked as senior VP of sales and distribution for The Walt Disney Company's Buena Vista Home Entertainment group.

Cox, who was named VP of sales, most recently worked at Sony Computer Entertainment America, where he was senior director-sales and merchandising.

Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music/Films/Logo Group, explained that the hires were in many ways prompted by the success of “Band. “It's so rare that you can hit it out of the park with the first project like we did with ‘Rock Band,’ but we really weren't prepared for it,” he added. “So the hiring of David and Scott is really about managing the business that we have.”

Though both Guthrie and Cox have extensive experience in game distribution and sales, Toffler stressed their hiring does not mean the company is looking to change its relationship with Electronic Arts, MTV’s partner and distributor to retail for “Band” accessories and software. “We have a great relationship with EA so this was more about filling out our own staff,” he said. 

In addition to launching “Band” following its acquisition of music game developer Harmonix, MTV Games has also inked a deal with legendary TV/film producer Jerry Bruckheimer to develop original games for a variety of platforms.

Though the company is still developing its long-term gaming strategy, Toffler did suggest MTV Games won't be content to rely on those two projects alone, adding, “There may be a handful of other moves we make that will involve people who are really breakthrough artists who might want to make video games for the first time.”

Toffler also hinted that MTV Games could eventually end up being the game-publishing arm for a host of Viacom entertainment divisions, some of which, like Nickelodeon, are currently using outside publishers to develop licensed games.

“You have to factor the other licensing opportunities that might come in from Nickelodeon or Comedy Central or the rest of Viacom,” said Toffler, to whom Guthrie reports. “We have hit shows all the time and they quite often lend themselves to games.”

In an interview, Guthrie suggested one of thing that attracted him to MTV Games was the chance to help build out a games division within a major media company. “There are lots of game publishers that would love to have the type of exposure that MTV can give them,” he added. “And Viacom, as a big media company, can provide opportunities that most other publishers can't match.”

That synergy will be on display this September when MTV Games launches “The Beatles: Rock Band.” “We're going after both hardcore gamers as well as people who have never played games before,” Toffler said. “So we're going to be using networks such as MTV to appeal to teens and twentysomethings and across VH1 and VH1 Classic we're getting old films and having a week-long stretch of Beatles programming that will include modern musicians talking about the Beatles impact.”

Billy Pidgeon, lead analyst with New York-based Game Changer Research, suggested MTV Games could become a major player in the game space provided it doesn't try to do too much, too soon.

“They have a great hit with ‘Rock Band,’ but its much wiser to take smaller steps and see what they have that they can build franchises with, especially when you look at all that Viacom owns,” he said.

But while Guthrie echoed Toffler's vow to be very selective in the type and number of games they develop, he also suggested the current depressed state of the gaming industry end up providing some short-term opportunities for MTV Games.

“There are fire sales going on everywhere right now with different gaming companies shedding different assets,” Guthrie explained. “So particularly with a company like Viacom, which has a larger agenda is a very stable company, there are some opportunities to come in and value some of those assets and if they are undervalued, we certainly will review them and see if they make sense for us.”